It is a strange thing to lose an enemy. After a decade of searching, Osama bin Laden has been found in Pakistan, killed and his body claimed by US forces as proof that one of the most notorious criminals in history is now, at last, gone. But notice that I say ‘gone’ and not ‘dead’ for people take much longer to pass from this earth than we realize. As we continue to post extreme facebook status updates heralding this event, tweet and retweet catchy phrases surrounding this history-making moment, we are left with the reality of someone who has dug so deep into the collective consciousness of the culture that to merely announce his death is not necessarily truthful – it is more hopeful. For the reality is that Osama bin Laden will be exhumed over and over again, reanimated and his face and voice replayed in our media for years to come. As the US election comes closer, everyone will claim responsibility in the strategy and military execution of the strike as well as denounce the strategy and military execution of the opposing party.
Is Osama bin Laden truly gone? It certainly seems so.
Is Osama bin Laden truly dead? That is going to take some time and it will take forgiveness.
This latter word – forgiveness – is going to take some courage on the part of many people including myself. It will take courage not to get drawn into the fanfare of the masses, the celebrations tainted with bloodlust, the patriotism that colors the world into good people and bad people as if there are truly absolute categories of good and bad in every human heart. The New York Times, which famously addresses people that they report on with honorific designation – Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., Rev. – went so far as to drop the honorific designation and merely refer to ‘Bin Laden’ in reporting his death. This move says volumes – now that he is no longer a person and merely a presence of evil, it makes it easier to celebrate this killing it seems. At a recent World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event in Florida last night, superstar wrestler John Cena whipped the crowd into a frenzy by announcing the death of Osama bin Laden and playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” to a roaring crowd:
What have we become as human beings if we strip the humanity from even our enemies and reduce them to sound bite and 10 second media moments? It is fitting in many ways to place so much of the frenzy around this event in a big, splashy Wrestling event which isn’t even a sport but merely scripted entertainment – a video game on steroids. But as a Christian I feel sick watching this play out. Yes, I feel gratitude to the US military for bringing closure to this chapter especially for the families of victims in this decade of terror that hit the world stage on September 1st, 2001. I remember watching the towers fall on 9/11 like most of the world that day in September. I remember the feelings of panic, isolation, fear and rage. I recall my moments of looking for the comic book enemy – the one who was so evil as to make what little claim to purity and righteousness burn that much brighter in comparison to the darkness of the other. As an American who has lived overseas, who has friends who are Muslim and understands what it means to be a Christian more deeply thanks to being humbled by cultures that are not my own, I cannot begin to understand the complexities of the world in which live nor God’s total point of view on these things. People have gone so far as to post – with vigor and certainty – that bin Laden is burning in hell and that is cause for celebration. As I said in a previous posting during the Rob Bell fervor on universalism and whether there is a hell, I just can’t go there:
Is there Hell? Scripture and the tradition of the Church says that this is as real as the world in which we live. In fact, Christ is fairly pointed in declaring that perhaps Hell is already here and we have a chance to do something about it for folks who are living in this very real and not imagined Hell everyday… and not merely blogging about it. In this regard I believe in Hell because I can see, taste and touch its stench all around me in the lives of the marginalized and down-trodden, the broken hearts and afflicted, the ironic and the nihilistic. To that end my thoughts on whether Hell is real have more to do with the hope and prayer that by the time we catch up to the action of Revelation 20 that God has already put into play that Hell will be as empty as freakin’ possible and that Satan and all the demons will be left alone and tormented by the reality of a cross that stands in their midst as well… a cross that is not impotently framed on a wall like an IKEA wall hanging but holds the door open for all time so that all who seek entrance to this place of separation have to try and get by it first.
The fact remains – we have no idea about who is in hell nor should we celebrate someone being there. Also, the task we have before us now is the hard, hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation and we can’t do that work if there isn’t a person involved. To strip someone of their humanity – a humanity that is not ours to take away – is the very work of Satan and we were not put on this earth to remove the Imago Dei from anyone… even a horrific person like Mr. bin Laden whose crimes against the human race go far beyond the ability to be paid for with a bullet through his head this weekend. To put an even sharper point on it, he will never truly be dead until we truly forgive and begin the work of letting go our hate, our bloodlust, our media hunger for violence, and a narrow patriotism that pits good guys against bad guys in a comic book fashion. This is the hard work before us today… and tomorrow… and the next day.
So some last words to Mr. bin Laden:
Mr. bin Laden – I am thankful that this chapter is finally coming to a close and that justice is beginning to be accomplished after so much death and sorrow. For those of us on this side of life, it is my prayer that we are committed to bringing light into darkness, not sanctifying the very evil we have seen in your work. This reign of terror our planet is embroiled in has your finger prints all over it yet many of us have contributed to our fair share of endorsing violence, of sectarian thoughts and deeds, of oversimplifying the mind of God for our own benefit, and for not sacrificing ourselves in ways that are glorifying to the living Lord. I honestly don’t have the ability to forgive you fully and this season of violence continues onward so it makes forgiveness that much harder. But I am seeking the strength and guidance of the living God who went through violence and death and whose death puts an end to death and whose life is the only chance I have for a redeemed life. I do pray for your family and descendants whose names will be labeled as unclean and be judged for being of your bloodstream. Yet as I have seen Jesus exemplify redemption through the Samaritan race, I too cannot turn my face and heart away from your family and do pray for their own reconciliation - to turn away from the sin and brokenness now aligned with you and that they can find forgiveness and redemption in the arms of the living Lord.
May mercy and grace become our partners in the hard work of forgiveness in the days, months and years to come.